Music: Drake, MORE LIFE

#1 album on the Billboard 200 chart, weeks of 4/8/17, 4/15/17 and 4/22/17

What it is: A new album from Canadian rapper Drake. It was released exclusively to streaming platforms and referred to as a “playlist” rather than an album for no apparent reason. The cover also credits it to “October Firm,” which is presumably a collective named after Drake’s October’s Very Own record label, and there are a lot of appearances from guest performers, so many that some tracks don’t even feature Drake himself.

I reviewed Drake’s last album, Views, back in this blog’s very first entry, and I want to take this opportunity to mention one thing that I left out of that post: The song “With You” is very good. I still don’t like Views much as a whole, but I’ve listened to that particular track a whole bunch over the past year and it deserved a shout-out.

Anyway, on a musical level, More Life is a step up. There’s still plenty of sparse, atmospheric moping, but there’s also a bigger proportion of more energetic songs like the opener “Free Smoke,” the Quavo/Travis Scott collaboration “Portland” and the touching Kanye showcase “Glow.” Drake also switches up his formula by giving a platform to English rappers like Skepta and Giggs and incorporating British/Caribbean slang like “blem” and “wasteman.”

But I don’t find his whiny non-gangsta persona here much more appealing than I did on Views. The closest he comes to being sympathetic is on the song “Lose You,” when he raps, “Why is my struggle different than others’?/Only child that’s takin’ care of his mother/As health worsens and bills double/That’s not respectable all of a sudden?” Taking care of an ailing family member is a relatable issue, but that’s the thing: It’s not a struggle that’s any different from anyone else’s, so it makes Drake no more admirable than the next guy, and less so than those who are takin’ care of their mothers without the assistance of a Sprite sponsorship. Rap used to market obscene selfishness as a justifiable lifeline for people in extreme poverty; Drake’s main innovation may be dismantling the idea that the appeal of his genre’s amoral, sharklike competitiveness (“I’ll probably self-destruct if I ever lose, but I never do”) was ever really based in sympathy for the underdog.

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